Nick Clegg attends a press statement in German Ministry of Economy on November 26, 2014 in Berlin. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dems hit new poll low of 5 per cent

The party reaches the nadir prophesied by Chris Huhne in 2010. 

Shortly after the coalition was formed, Chris Huhne predicted that support for the Lib Dems would plummett to 5 per cent, while support for the Tories would fall to 25 per cent. The Conservatives have fared far better than he expected, usually polling well above that level, but his own party's fate has been just as prophesied. 

After regularly scoring as low as six per cent in recent surveys (behind the Greens), the Lib Dems have today hit the new nadir of 5 per cent: the lowest figure from any pollster since May 2010. The figure came from TNS, which also gave Labour a seven point lead over the Tories (35-28). Ukip are on 19 per cent, with the Greens on 7 per cent. 

By this stage of the parliament many Lib Dems expected their party to be recovering. As part of the government, the hope was that they would benefit from the return of economic growth and the large fall in unemployment. Yet far from gaining ground, they are still losing it. Some rare consolation was provided by ICM earlier this week, which had them at the giddy heights of 14 per cent (largely owing to methodological differences: ICM reallocate 50 per cent of Lib Dem "don't knows" to the party). But their average rating remains just 9 per cent. 

Owing to the benefits of incumbency and their MPs' local reputations, the Lib Dems still hope to retain at least 30 of their 56 seats at the election. In private, they are resigned to the loss of most of their Labour-facing constituencies, such as Burnley, Manchester Withington, Redcar, Brent Central, Bradford East and Norwich South. But they remain confident of holding the majority of the far greater number of Conservative-facing seats (which account for 37 of their 56). Lord Ashcroft's most recent marginals poll found them on course to retain nine of the 11 surveyed.

But outside of their fortresses, they face the prospect of collapse and hundreds of lost deposits. It will take years of rebuilding before the Lib Dems are a truly national party again. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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